PAUL KLEE (1879-1940)
PAUL KLEE (1879-1940)
PAUL KLEE (1879-1940)
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PAUL KLEE (1879-1940)

Zwei Vogel-bilder

PAUL KLEE (1879-1940)
Zwei Vogel-bilder
indistinctly signed (lower right); dated, titled and numbered '1919⁄259 zwei Vogel-bilder' (on the artist's mount)
oil on paper laid down on paper
Image size: 9 ¼ x 13 in. (23.5 x 32.9 cm.)
Mount size: 11 ¾ x 16 ¾ in. (32.3 x 42.5 cm.)
Painted in 1919
Lily Klee, Bern (wife of the artist).
Klee-Gesellschaft, Bern (acquired from the above, 1946).
Galerie Rosengart, Lucerne (acquired from the above, 1947).
Ludmilla and Hans Arnhold, New York (acquired from the above, July 1952, then by descent).
Private foundation, Europe (gift from the above).
The Paul Klee Foundation, ed., Paul Klee: Catalogue raisonné, 1919-1922, Bern, 1999, vol. III, p. 145, no. 2323 (illustrated).
Düsseldorf, Kunstsammlung and Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Paul Klee, Im Zeichen der Teilung, January-July 1995, p. 375, no. 81 (illustrated in color, p. 143; illustrated again, p. 338).

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Lot Essay

“Klee was one of the many modernist artists who wanted to practice what he called 'the pure cultivation of the means' of painting—in other words, to use line, shape, and color for their own sake rather than to describe something visible. That priority freed him to create images dealing less with perception than with thought.” (H. Schoenholz Bee, ed., MoMA Highlights, New York, 1999, p. 116).
Zwei Vogel-bilder is a perfect embodiment of Paul Klee’s unique approach to visual language: a mathematical, abstracted conception of form and color, countered with charm and wit in the treatment of his subject.
As Klee’s German title, inscribed on the picture mount, differentiate—the viewer is looking at two images (bilder) of birds, not at birds themselves. Playing with syntax, the artist suggests that only a patient and astute viewer will successfully decipher the scene which he has created, and enter his world. The longer one spends with the picture, the more it reveals itself. Progressively, out of colorful dislocated patterns appear Klee’s familiar, beloved birds. This title perhaps also humorously references the opacity of the prevalent artistic movements booming in Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century, while Klee was making this picture, self-aware of its own Cubist and Orphic qualities. Zwei Vogel-Bilder reveals how he was particularly inspired by Robert Delaunay's Fenêtres series and its innovative deconstruction of form through color. According to the Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern, the present work itself was originally part of a larger painting, which Klee initially made then cut apart. The deconstruction of the image was in this case literal, and goes to show how the artist perceived his work as malleable: something to be built-up, broken down, and rearranged.
The year that this work was created, 1919, was tumultuous for Klee on a personal level, as he fled from Munich to Switzerland following the defeat of the German Empire in the First World War, to escape the repressive Freikorps which had made it a point to police the German avant-garde and cultural intelligentsia which he was a part of. Yet, despite the instability of the world around him, the artist continued to innovate relentlessly and develop his practice. Zwei Vogel-bilder is an important historical testimony to this, and already presents many of the formal elements which Klee would theorize on as a professor little over a year later at the Bauhaus.

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